A cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad published in a South African weekly newspaper has created a furor among the local Muslim community, raising once again the debate between the competing principles of free expression and respect for religious faith in a pluralistic society. Coming just 20 days before South Africa hosts the World Cup soccer matches, it has raised the spectre of a violent reaction in South Africa from extremist groups who see themselves as defenders of the Islamic faith.
The cartoon – which is much gentler than those published by Dutch and Danish newspapers or even by the American TV program “South Park” –, drawn by South Africa’s premier cartoonist Jonathan Shapira – also known as Zapiro – depicts the prophet lying on a psychiatrist’s couch in heaven, complaining, “Other prophets have followers with a sense of humor!”
“He was trying to make a fairly gentle interpretation of the global debate on the representation of the Prophet and on free speech,” says Nic Dawes, editor of the Mail & Guardian weekly newspaper, which printed the cartoon.
“I have to consider the paper’s equality of treatment for different faiths,” he said. “Zapiro has profoundly offended many other people, including Catholic readers for his depiction of the pope. He’s a robust critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, which many Jewish readers object to. Even the president of South Africa is suing him because of his depiction, which he doesn’t like.”
South Africa's Muslim Judicial Council issued a statement condemning the cartoon on its website this weekend.
"The Muslim leadership appeals to all Muslims to express their condemnation and disapproval of this latest insult on the Muslim community in a responsible and dignified manner," the council said.
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